Pig Slaughter Day at Our Small Farm

Today is slaughter day at our fledgling farm–pig slaughter day. And so I am in town at a coffee shop as I write this. Because I hate pig slaughter day. I mean, I was a vegetarian for 24 years! Raising pigs for food is a huge about face for me. And don’t judge me too harshly for staying away and leaving Bob to deal with it alone. Last time I was the one there alone when the mobile slaughter unit showed up.

Raising meat for food is not something we take lightly. It’s not that I get attached to the pigs, that they have names, because I don’t and they don’t. (OK, I do get a little attached. Pigs are just such characters! How can you not get attached??) But we strive to take really good care of these animals, with plenty of fresh air and room to roam and fresh water and healthy food. Unlike the shrink-wrapped pork people buy at the supermarket, our pork comes from pigs that have lived a very good life.


And that’s why we do this, raise pigs and slaughter them. People are going to eat pork. Period. Isn’t it better for all–humans and pigs alike–if people eat pork raised in a humane and natural way? Digging in the dirt and playing chase and stuffing their noses into pumpkins and sleeping in literal pig piles?

As just two people, Bob and I can’t do anything to stop factory farming and the American obsession with cheap food that leads to the inhumane treatment of animals. But we can do one tiny little thing when we raise a few pigs and people buy our humanely raised meat instead of the cheap stuff. And slaughter day is a necessary part of that process…which gives me a little comfort.

But I still hate slaughter day.

Christmas Green: ‘Tis the Season to Say “No” to Waste…and Here’s How We Do It

Merry Christmas!! We hope you and yours are having a wonderful holiday season! As empty nesters, the holidays are still evolving for us, but one thing is certain: We are trying reeeeeaaallly hard not to create extra waste!

I remember when my kids were little, the shame I felt as we filled the garbage with wrapping paper and ribbons and plastic packaging. Ugh! How I wish I could go back and undo those days! I was ignorant and in a hurry and acting like everyone else, but still…

These days I have the luxury of time to be green, plus more smarts, but it’s not easy! Because it does take time! And you have to retrain your family too. Otherwise you’re fighting two battles: one against the status quo and the other against your family!

Going Green: It’s a Wrap
These days, our holidays are much greener than they used to be, although it’s a process. I started with the way we wrap. We use plain paper, twine and decor from nature. This year we also added scraps of scrapbook paper left over after putting photos in scrapbooks, and strips of burlap that we can easily keep and reuse. The family grumbled last year, but this year they have voluntarily followed suit.

We also use brown paper lunch bags, and we reuse gift bags. Once you get into the habit of NOT having wrapping paper and ribbons and bows around, it’s easy to get into the green habit of wrapping sustainably. (And yes, we keep the twine and reuse it. The paper that’s too small to keep we use to start fires…because when your house was built in 1890, you don’t have central heating and your woodstove is it, requiring lots of paper for starting fires every morning!)

Here’s a picture from last year when we were just getting started on this new approach…

Getting Centered: The Centerpiece
OK, I will admit there is another driving force behind our green Christmases: lack of storage. So our centerpieces are usually something scrounged out of natural ingredients. This year it’s branches clipped from the Christmas tree, oranges dried in the dehydrator, pinecones I keep from year to year, and cinnamon sticks. Oh, and a vintage beaded garland that I bought 15 years ago at an antique store.

As we work our way through the Christmas season, I will slowly deconstruct the centerpiece, putting the cinnamon sticks back in the spice drawer, the oranges in potpourri on the stovetop, the pinecones and beaded garland in my one box of Christmas decorations, and the branches outside where mulch is needed.

A Green Christmas: Gift Giving
Our green approach also means thoughtful giving that avoids buying online or buying anything made in China. We save money all year for Christmas spending, then pull out the cash in December and that’s what we spend. Occasionally we buy online because it’s the only way to get a particular gift, but for the most part, it’s cash and it’s spent in our local community.

Plus we make a lot of gifts–something else that slowly takes root in the kids as they get older, I’ve learned. This year, I’m giving homemade cordials and candles and body scrubs and bookmarks (tucked into books found at the used bookstore), plus gift certificates for time-related gifts. The Youngest went to the thrift store for frames to make reusable to-do lists. And the Oldest made 18th-century “catsup” as gifts. (Once we have a garage and Bob has a shop, I hope to see a lot more homemade gifts…hint, hint, hint.)

Here’s the pear cordial on the first day of the three weeks it takes because I love how this photo turned out…

Our green approach is not for everyone, I get it. Aesthetically, there might be very few people who even like the look. A lot of people lack the time to make anything, or to shop anywhere but online. But for us, we save money, we reduce waste, we spend our money locally, we stay on budget, and we really truly appreciate the effort and love and creativity that go into make the homemade gifts.

And we hope it inspires at least a few people to also say “no” to waste at this time of year.

Growing Our Own Harvest Decorations

One thing we don’t have to buy: harvest decor. I love decorating for the fall, and I love growing the pumpkins and corn stalks to do so! These mini pumpkins are Jack Be Littles and they are edible and taste good, according to the seed packet. And we had plenty! We must have had over 100 from just four plants. But sadly, I was already pumpkin-ed out with pie pumpkins being used for pumpkin bread and soup and the like, so we didn’t eat any of these. The pigs did! And loved them!

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Bringing Home the Bacon…Bits

We drove for 4 hours each way to pick up bacon bits today, but it was worth the drive. These are Berkshire pigs, an awesome breed, and we couldn’t find a local breeder. Plus we got to explore a new part of the state as we drove, and we had a lot of quality time in the truck for talking. The piglets? They were troopers in a dog cage in the bed of the truck the whole way home! They just slept, one across and the other three using it as a pillow.

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Before and After Photos: Patching a Chimney Hole in the Kitchen Ceiling With a Piece of Antique Tin

Our very old farmhouse was built in pieces, and the kitchen (and therefore wood stove) got moved as the house got added on to. That means we had not one but two chimney holes in ceilings to deal with. We’ve yet to deal with the one in our daughter’s bedroom, but the kitchen ceiling we did tackle.

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That photo above is what we had left AFTER we pulled down the old chimney, pulled the sheet rock off the walls, and stripped all the paper and nails off of the ceiling. You can see some flashing that was around the old chimney, and the brown tarp was part of our effort to keep water out, since the roof also had a hole in it once the chimney came down. The good news was, it was easy for the electricians to run the wiring at least!

Below are some photos of the hole today. Here’s what we did: We found a piece of antique ceiling tin (actually, a friend found a piece of antique ceiling tin) that was painted pink and cream. I spent hours and hours and hours (and hours!) trying to sand and strip all of the paint off, because my original vision was for a piece of shiny tin, not painted tin. When I finally got it to the state you see it in now, I said, “Forget it! We’re going with the antique-y look!”

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The idea was to put a piece of tin over the hole so the kitchen table could be centered under it and it would look like it was supposed to be there.

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First, we had to tackle the wall. We pulled planks off of a wall upstairs and used those to make a “new” plank wall out of old boards. When we ran out, we pulled apart an old sheep feeder in the barn and used that for the rest of the planks. The planks got primed and caulked and painted. (And you’ll see we need to caulk and paint again. Heating our house with a wood stove has meant a lot of the caulking needs to be redone, both in this wall and in the four ceilings we restored. Sigh…)

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We got the ceiling all scraped, sanded, caulked and painted (see really good before and after pictures of the kitchen ceiling). Then a friend got this tin up (while my husband was deployed) and put trim around it. I painted and caulked. Then we put the kitchen table under it, centered just right, and voila! You’d never know there was a chimney there nor a huge hole!!

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Although it’s not a very clear photo, you can see the detail in the tin a little better in this photo above.

We are far from done with this renovation, but it’s good for me to look at these before and after photos to remind myself how far we’ve come! And now as our Pacific Northwet spring begins to finally warm up and dry out, it has been really nice to turn our attention to starting a small farm at last, since that’s why we bought this place in the first place. Then this winter, we’ll get back to the renovating and get this old farmhouse ever closer to DONE.

We Have a Creek! How Cool Is That!!

Of all the surprises we’ve had with our farmhouse renovation and trying to resurrect this abandoned farm, this week brought one of the biggest: It turns out we have a creek at the back of the property!

We thought it was just a run off ditch. There was no way to see what was really there because the area was so overgrown with blackberries (in some places, 30 feet deep) and fallen trees and underbrush. But this week our neighbor Alan arranged for an excavator to come in and they spent 13 hours clearing out and piling up the old fencing, the dead trees, and the blackberries, and generally cleaning up the creek banks.

I couldn’t believe it when I walked to the back of the property and saw we had a creek!! Bear was ecstatic too. Within minutes, he was covered in wet mud from exploring. How happy was Bear? You can watch him do his “happy run” in a short video at the end of this post. 🙂

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This picture above is looking north. This was my first time seeing the creek and before all the clearing was done. I can’t tell you how surprised and overjoyed I was at this discovery! I was standing there texting Bob all kinds of “isn’t this cool??” texts. 🙂 I don’t know if you can see the burn piles on the right of the photo, but there are a lot of them and they are BIG.

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Hey look! Bear’s in the creek! Shocker! But boy, do we have our work cut out for us now!! We have wood to cut up and brush to burn and blackberries to KILL. Plus there’s some cleaning up of the creek itself to do. See the metal roofing pieces and pipe? Yeah. We need to haul that out and get it to the scrap metal place, sigh…

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This picture above is looking south. See all that muddy area? That was all blackberry bushes and brush. Look how much land we just got back!!

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This picture above is of a clearing on the other side of the creek. We knew it was there but couldn’t really see it. Now we’ll be able to get to it and explore it. Apparently there used to be houses back in there way back when, and a pond for fishing! Hmmm… I wonder if we can bring the pond back somehow? Where’s that excavator??

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For some sense of how overgrown things were, here’s a picture of where the creek starts on our property. It’s no wonder we didn’t know it was there!

And here’s how happy Bear is about the creek. Bear shows his happiness by just plain running full out…and man, he is FAST! 🙂 I can’t run like Bear, and neither can Bob, but I’m pretty sure the joy in Bear’s run is equal to our joy at this discovery!